TOP TIPS: WHAT YOU SHOULD (AND SHOULDN'T) DO
REMOTE HEARINGS – HERE TO STAY?
Remote court hearings have become increasingly prevalent since the first lockdown in March 2020 and show no signs of disappearing soon. So-called 'hybrid hearings', a combination of both physical and remote presence at a hearing, have also become more common as the courts continue to demonstrate how flexible hearings can be. So, what should (and shouldn’t) you do if you are required to attend a remote hearing via video conference?
PREPARING FOR THE HEARING
- You will be told in advance which platform is going to be used, so you can make any necessary arrangements. The Court Service is typically using Microsoft Teams, but also Zoom, Skype for Business and Cloud Video Platform.
- Check you know how to use the basic functions of the platform, such as camera on/off and muting/unmuting. In most cases, you will be asked to keep your camera turned off and stay muted, but if you are required to be on camera, ensure your head and shoulders will be visible, choose a neutral background suitable for Court proceedings and dress as for Court.
- If you are attending from home, find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed and check you have a good internet connection and that any devices are fully charged.
- Consider how you will communicate with your team (including your legal team) during the hearing. It might be helpful to set up a WhatsApp group to discuss in real-time. If using the chat function in Microsoft Teams (or similar chat function in the software being used for the hearing), be careful to ensure you are messaging the right people – not the hearing participants – and consider having that chat open in a separate window to the hearing to avoid any inadvertent messages to unintended recipients.
- If you have been provided with an electronic bundle for the hearing, consider how you will access this during the hearing – it might be helpful to display this on a separate device or monitor, if possible.
- If you have been provided with a Court Order relating to the hearing, familiarise yourself with the contents.
- You will be provided with joining details for the hearing in advance (usually by the Court). Do not share these details with anyone else, even if the hearing is public, as the judge controls who has access to the hearing. Sharing the details without the judge's permission can have serious repercussions.
DURING THE HEARING
- Log into the specified platform in advance of the start time, to account for any technical issues. The judge's clerk will usually suggest that attendees join the hearing up to 30 minutes in advance.
- Remember to keep your camera off and microphone muted. The judge(s) and the advocates will be the only attendees with their cameras and microphones on.
- Do not adjust any scene/background/filter settings during the hearing, as this may have unintended consequences. For example, if you select a scene/background whilst using "Together Mode" on Microsoft Teams, everyone sees that background.
- The judge will usually join once all parties have joined. You do not need to rise when the judge joins, as you would in a courtroom. Members of the public can join remote hearings only where permitted by the Court.
- The Court will usually record the hearing and make a transcript available following the hearing. Do not make or publish any visual or audio recording of the hearing without the Court's permission. This is expressly prohibited and may amount to a contempt of Court. You must not, for example:
- record the hearing, or the sound from the hearing;
- take a screenshot or photograph of the proceedings; or
- live-stream or otherwise transmit/share the proceedings, e.g. by posting updates or commentary on social media (note that accredited journalists are exempt from this).
AFTER THE HEARING
- Always check that the connection has been properly terminated when you leave the hearing so that unintended words/actions are not picked up.
Ultimately, remember that a hearing, even if being held remotely, is still a court hearing and should therefore be regarded with the same seriousness and importance as a physical hearing. You should therefore act professionally at all times and ensure you adhere to the usual formalities to avoid any embarrassing faux pas.